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Prom Shopping Season

     Besides the melting snow, blooming flowers, and longer days, spring can also be marked by a rush of high school girls on the frantic hunt for prom dresses.

     As the end of the school year nears, students find themselves in the heat of prom shopping season. For most U.S. students, prom is an important rite of passage in an adolescent’s life.

     Tyler O’Connell (‘19) works as a sales assistant at a local bridal and prom shop in Portsmouth. She expressed, “I think shopping for a prom dress, and prom itself, is given this special weight for girls. It’s one of a handful of times in your life – another would be preparing for a wedding – that involves getting dressed up, pictures, finding a dress, the ‘grand reveal’ moment when the whole look comes together, all to make the memories from that night special.”

Photo courtesy of Tyler O’Connell

     While there may be only one dress that will fulfill your “prom vision,” when it comes to finding and purchasing the dress itself there are several different routes. Before you begin your own dress journey, the following may help give you the initial push in the right direction.

     One of the most straightforward options for buying that dream dress is heading to a bridal or prom shop to try on dress after dress until you find something perfect. The in-store experience includes help from sale associates, a large selection of styles on hand, and an experiential way of shopping. Unfortunately, dresses from shops like these can sometimes put a dress at a higher price point. The price reflects the cost it takes to pay the expenses of running a business, operating a physical space, ordering new dresses to meet demand, and paying employees.

     Another option when searching for a prom dress is online shopping. “Ordering online, you’re getting a dress that nobody has tried on before, and you get to try on at home. For some people, trying on a dress in a store, in front of a group of people, can be intimidating or uncomfortable, so being able to try the dress at home can be better,” says O’Connell.

     While many dresses bought online are more also usually less expensive, this can also come at the cost of lower quality. Brady Mountain (‘20) ordered a dress online prior to purchasing her final prom dress from a local boutique. “I first tried to find a dress online first because the prices seemed more reasonable, but when I got my order the dress didn’t fit how I had hoped and the material was different from what it looked like in the picture.” Luckily, Mountain was able to return the dress. “The store’s return policy was pretty straightforward so I could get a refund but I was sad the dress didn’t work out.”

     One path less taken is making your own dress. Emma Kovalcik (‘19) and Patty Anderson (‘19) are two students who decided to sew and design their own dress for their junior year prom. “I had considered making my own dress beforehand but the main reason I actually went through with it was because I was in between jobs and didn’t have a couple hundred dollars to drop on a dress. I looked around online but I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to find what I was looking for in a store,” says Kovalcik.

Photo courtesy of Patty Anderson 

     Anderson shared that she had intended to sew her prom dress ever since her seamstress mother taught and shared the experience of sewing with her from a young age. Creating your own dress is undoubtedly a challenging task. Anderson shared that, “it was a stressful experience just because of the time crunch. I did try to spread it out so that it wouldn’t end up being stressful but I just ended up procrastinating and there were some late nights the week before prom.”

     Despite the complications of sewing and unexpected bumps, the process of creating one’s own dress offers a lower price, originality, and “the confidence you gain from knowing you can do it,” states Kovalcik.

     “I was able to make exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have to settle for a dress that I found in the store. There were a couple of things that came out a little wrong, the fit of the top wasn’t perfect, but overall, I was elated to be wearing something that I made with my own hands,” shares Anderson. Both Anderson and Kovalcik plan on sewing their own dresses again this year for their senior prom.

Photo courtesy of Fosters

     Alterations are also something to consider when buying a dress. “Most dresses are designed for girls with a very specific body type, and most girls don’t have that exact specific body. Almost every dress is going to need some kind of alteration, even if it’s just hemming the bottom,” explains O’Connell. Alterations can often make or break how a dress looks when worn, and can range anywhere from $100 if you’re just getting it hemmed to $300 if the dress has complicated beading. Kovalcik noted that handmade dresses give you a leg up in terms of how a dress fits. “I realize alterations can be made to store bought dresses, but it’s different when something is constructed specifically with you in mind from the beginning.”

     Prom shopping doesn’t just fall to the girls. Jackson Deely (‘20) attended prom last year sporting a tux color coordinated with his date’s dress. He explained that color coordination from the pocket square to the boutineer was well thought out and, “If we hadn’t matched, it just wouldn’t have been prom,” he said. While boys are still dressing their best, tux styles are limited in comparison to the array of different dress styles girls are tasked with sorting through. Deely agreed that, “it’s definitely easier buying or renting a tux because there’s not as much stigma around it like there is with girls. With girls, you have to find the perfect dress and it can’t be the same as anyone else. It’s very nit picky.”

Photo courtesy of Jackson Deely

     Oyster River’s 2019 junior/senior prom will be hosted May 10th at the Red Barn at Outlook Farm from 7-11 pm. The theme is advertised as “rustic elegance” and a Prom King, Queen, Prince, Princess, and Court will be named at the event.  

     The prom shopping experience has stressful moments no matter which purchasing path you choose. Whether it’s alterations, unrealistic expectations, bickering with picky parents, or a time crunch, the end product and the lead up to the big night is what makes the struggle and stress all worth it in the end. O’Connell concludes that, “finding ‘your dress’ is probably the biggest, greatest overall moment. This is what all of the shopping and searching has led up to – the actual dress you’re going to wear to prom.”

Written by Grace Castonguay

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